Notes From The Horse Races

Some notes from my first ever visit to Woodbine Racetrack the other day:

Powershift at the Races

Interesting example of Toffler's Powershift thesis at work. In the case of Woodbine, it does not charge admission to the racetrack, instead making its money on gambling and concessions. Of particular note in the latter category is the Official Race Day Program, which promotes on the front cover that "Admission And Parking Are Always Free" and is symbolic of the shift from Toffler's second stage of power — wealth — to his third stage of power — information.

Woodbine derives neither its power nor its profits from the capital that is concentrated in the racegrounds proper. Rather it is through the control of information that Woodbine asserts itself: it is flatly impossible to do a decent job of wagering on the horses without the sophisticated information contained in the daily racing form; it is equally assured that the majority of track goers do not want to share their programs — and their scribbled meta-analyses of the information contained therein — so that they may retain as much of an edge as possible against the betting odds.

So Woodbine, then, possesses intelligence that its patrons absolutely must have and are unwilling to share amongst themselves. The sheer volume of information contained in the Woodbine track database virtually guarantees that competitors won't be able to threaten its monopoly. And at a couple of bucks a pop, printed on cheap newsprint every day, its margins are extremely high. Combine this with the gambling that takes place at various electronic terminals around the complex and it becomes apparent that Woodbine does not operate a racetrack but rather a sophisticated financial exchange market.

Now that is power.

Watching the Race

We spend most of the race watching the competing horses on the big screen television in the centre of the infield. It is only when the horses come down the home stretch that we shift our focus to the live action (aka a different camera angle). Is this final few seconds of the race the sole difference between being at Woodbine and consuming the event from an off-track betting parlour elsewhere in the world?

Declining Horsepower

The horses are in many ways irrelevant to the race. It is only the information that the punters are concerned with: the handicapping data in the daily race program, the short pre-race forecasts on the in-house TV, the ever-shifting odds on the race board. Despite the sport's efforts to imbue these "athletes" with personality (in parallel to what Benjamin pointed out occurring with film actors), and although physically only a short distance away, they are actually far removed from the true locus of horseracing consumption.

In this sense, does the horse prefigure the future of the professional athlete, with its overwhelming reliance on information for its identity?


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